‘Stranger Danger’ Talk Tips for Parents from Wilton’s ‘Safety Mom’

With the recent, repeated news reports of ‘suspicious van’ sightings and police confirmations in surrounding towns about children being approached by strangers, GOOD Morning Wilton asked Wilton resident and national safety expert Alison Jacobson — otherwise known as The Safety Mom — to write something for parents giving some guidance on how to talk to children at every age about “stranger danger.”

Over the past few weeks there have been several reports of attempted abductions or suspicious behavior by one or more individuals in neighboring communities. The principals at Wilton schools have sent letters home to parents informing them of these incidents and urging them to use this as an opportunity to discuss “stranger danger” with their children.

I realize that some parents don’t wish to scare or alarm their children, but knowledge is power and, unfortunately, no community or child is immune to the potential threat of abduction. It is, however, important to talk to your kids in an age-appropriate manner about the incidents in the neighboring towns and tips for staying safe. Kids will hear things from their friends and other kids at school–there’s no way of sheltering them from this. By providing information in a calm manner you will help to diminish anxiety and encourage confidence.

Here are some safety tips to share with your children:

Elementary School Level

  1. Children at the elementary school level should not be allowed off the bus if a parent is not there. Given the recent string of incidents, it would be wise to have one parent waiting at the bus at all times. If it’s a group drop-off spot, consider establishing a rotation of a “designated parent.”
  2. If this is not feasible, tell your children to only get off the bus in a group, never alone. If you’re unable to meet the bus enlist the help of a neighbor.
  3. Don’t characterize a “bad guy” to them. There is no physical characteristic of a child abductor – it could be a man or a woman, young or old. Also, don’t discuss a particular car, as in “the white van.” An abductor can and will change the car he drives.
  4. Remind your child to never approach a car – no matter who is in it!  Young children easily fall prey to the person who says they’ve lost their puppy, they need directions or they have candy or a video game.  We truly believe we’ve told our kids enough times that they won’t buy into this, but this is something that they need to be reminded of on a regular basis.
  5. We’ve also taught our children that police officers are “safe.”  Unfortunately there have been incidents where an abductor has approached a child, flashed a badge wearing a fake uniform and told her that her parents are in the hospital and she must go with them.  Let your child know that if you are ever in the hospital a relative or close friend will either meet them at school or at home.
  6. Tell children to walk on sidewalks, as far away from the curb as possible against the flow of traffic so they can see who’s approaching. That will make it more difficult for them to be surprised by a driver and quickly snatched.
  7. Teach your kids “No, Go, Yell, Tell.” If in a dangerous situation, kids should say no, run away, yell as loud as they can, and tell a trusted adult what happened right away. Make sure that your children know that it is okay to say no to an adult in a dangerous situation and to yell to keep themselves safe.  Teach your children to be assertive.

‘Tweens and Teens

Now more than ever it’s important to discuss what’s happening in the community as they most definitely will be hearing about it in school.  You might think that you don’t have to talk about abduction safety, but we often give our older kids more credit for being “street smart” than they are in reality.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests posing some scenarios to see how they respond:

  • You’re playing outside with your friends. An adult you don’t know asks for directions to a nearby store.
  • A person passes by your house walking his dog. He sees you playing outside and asks if you want to walk the dog with him.
  • As you’re walking home from school, you notice an adult you don’t know following you.
  • On your way home from school you see an adult you know. He asks if you want to go for frozen yogurt and then will drive you home.

Let them know that if someone is following  them in a car, they  should turn around and go in the opposite direction or take a path where a car would not go.

‘Tweens and teens desperately want independence but their safety is paramount. Make it a rule that your children must ask permission or check in with you before going anywhere. Insist that they stay in groups when they’re walking in the neighborhood or around town.

Sadly, we can no longer dismiss the threat of abduction. This is a safety topic that will need to be discussed many times over the years.